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Planet Earth's nine lives: Fresh water

Fresh Water: something we take for granted

Without fresh water, no people could live. Happily, there's plenty of it about... but only in some places. In deserts, there's no water. Humans waste alot of water without even realising it. In hotter countries, where climate change is starting to take effect, there is not much water. What there is may be dirty and can carry diseases. But people are taking so much water that they're creating more deserts. You might wonder how that can be.

All fresh water comes from rain. The rain falls on the land and makes big rivers and lakes. Much more of it sinks into the ground and gets stored there. These natural underground stores of water are called aquifers or, simply, groundwater.

As you know, people need fresh clean water to drink and wash. But that's only a small amount of the vast amount of water that humans take for things like farming and industry. A lot more goes on watering lawns and golf courses in dry regions.

One famous example of people seriously damaging a whole region by taking too much water is the Aral Sea in central Asia (look left at the image). So much water gets used for growing water-hungry cotton that the once-large inland sea has almost dried up. Fishing boats rust in the middle of what is now desert. This has even changed the climate in the region, making it hotter in summer and colder in winter.

  It's a fact: people are already taking so much water from rivers that around a quarter of them no longer reach the sea for at least some of the year.  

Scientists reckon that people can safely take about one third of the water from rivers (but not from those in remote areas). That limit hasn't been reached yet and, with care, it won't be.



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